Watching Northern Illinois somehow, someway outlast Buffalo in last season’s MAC Championship Game, I was convinced that the Huskies are the most determined and resilient outfit in college football.
They’d better be, if a 2019 bowl bid is to be anything but a fading fancy.
NIU has been having a foul autumn, the program’s worst August-October stretch since 2016 when the Huskies lost 4 games by 7 points or less and finished 1 win away from bowl-eligibility.
Not that MAC schools – even well-respected brands like Northern Illinois – get automatic bowl invitations at 6-6. The pressure is on head coach Thomas Hammock’s team to win immediately. Meanwhile, Saturday’s hosts of NIU are feeling a different kind of pressure to go bowling…the good kind. Central Michigan is 5-4 and needs just 1 more victory to officially peek into the postseason picture.
CMU is also 4-2 in conference games and not out of the race in the MAC West. But despite Northern Illinois’ recent skid of 5-out-of-6 scrums lost, Las Vegas odds-makers are weighing the Huskies as a slight favorite over the Chippewas when the programs meet in Mount Pleasant this weekend.
Who: Northern Illinois Huskies at Central Michigan Chippewas
When: Saturday, November 2nd, 12 PM EST
Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant, MI
Lines: NIU (-1) at CMU (+1) / O/U Total: (53)
It’s obvious that the (slight) underdog Chippewas of CMU have developed a lively offense. Central Michigan was shut out by Wisconsin in a thrash-for-cash game, perhaps causing Miami to overlook the MAC representatives a little bit on 9/21.
Not that I was sitting around cheering for Miami that day, but you’ve got to feel good about any mid-major that gets blown-out by the Power-5 and comes back to make a game of it on the next try. All football programs project an internal message of “the sky is the limit,” which can make a 61-point loss to a fellow FBS squad feel like the sky has fallen. Coming back to stalemate the Hurricanes in less than 3 weeks’ time was a major accomplishment and a brand-recognition bonanza that probably has something to do with the point spread ticking in CMU’s direction.
Soon the Chippewas were able to put a 3-game winning streak together, thanks in large-part a defense which has consistently stopped the run and gotten after the QB. The Week 8 victory over Bowling Green is typical of Central Michigan’s success this season, as the Falcons patiently tried to run all night but were not allowed a 75+ yard rusher, and BGSU quarterback Grant Loy threw 3 interceptions under duress. Meanwhile, the CMU offense purred behind a 2-headed monster of Jonathan Ward and junior Kobe Lewis in the backfield.
Then came a blow-out loss at Buffalo after which QB Quinten Dormady has come under criticism and media scrutiny. The Bulls’ (not to be confused with the Bills) offense only scored 4 times in the 43-20 outcome, but the host-defense feasted on Dormady:
With the ground game stifled, the Chippewas looked to senior quarterback Quinten Dormady to step up and lead the team to a victory through the air. Dormady completed 25 of his 32 pass attempts against the Bulls for 272 yards and tossed two touchdowns. Looking at that stat line, Dormady played well: it’s tough to get a 78% completion percentage against a solid opponent in Buffalo. But to be honest, Dormady left an awful lot to be desired on the field at UB Stadium on Saturday.
He fumbled the ball away on a strip-sack early in the second quarter as the Chippewas were building some momentum, then threw two ill-advised balls in the fourth quarter that were picked off. The second interception was returned for a touchdown; Dormady’s three turnovers resulted in 17 Buffalo points.
Even looking past his trio of turnovers, Dormady never did much of anything that stands out to me as I look back on the game. The vast majority of his passes were short balls out to the sidelines or over the middle, and most of those completions were pretty easy. From what I could tell, Buffalo’s strategy was to allow passes thrown underneath and keeping everything in front of the secondary, trusting that the defensive backs would collapse in time to make open-field tackles. That strategy worked.
Is Northern Illinois the type of defense that can stuff a pair of quality tailbacks and put mental pressure on a struggling QB? Maybe not under Hammock, for whom the NIU defense often goes peacefully to sleep (#SeeWhatIDidThere). Husky defenders couldn’t tame Akron’s ground game in Week 9, instead winning by 7 touchdowns thanks to superior passing plays and option plays, success on special teams, and a handful of interceptions and sacks. The outcome from a week prior – in which NIU lost 27-24 to WR Jalen Walker and the .500 Miami-of-Ohio RedHawks – is more-indicative of where the Huskies may be headed following net-loss coaching and recruiting changes.
Why is everyone freaking out about a bad game from Dormady? It’s not like NIU is likely to out-pass Central Michigan. The superior defense of CMU will tell the tale as the Chippewas are an excellent pick ATS.